The brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and inspired by the protests of the 1960s, Earth Day began as a “national teach-in on the environment” and was held on April 22 to maximize the number of students that could be reached on university campuses.

Root-Pike Watershed doing its part to celebrate Earth Day

Worldwide observance originated in Wisconsin


Mission: Restore, protect and sustain the Root-Pike basin watersheds through the funding and facilitation of a regional network of locally initiated projects

Earth Day. 

Since its inception in 1970, those two words have inspired one billion people to take action in over 190 countries on behalf of a litany of environmental issues that impact the globe.

Earth Day is especially important to our state because it is a Wisconsin idea.

Gaylord Nelson, the then-junior senator from Wisconsin, became alarmed at the mounting ecological crises unfolding in our nation and decided to do something about it. 

Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network Program Director Nan Calvert

Did you know Wisconsin has a rich and long history of laudable environmentalists? When we celebrate Earth Day, we celebrate their legacies as well. 

Today brings us the 51st anniversary of the observance – a call to action, really. 

Kenosha’s Root-Pike Watershed has heard the call and will be doing a variety of things to honor and celebrate the Earth over the next few days.

There will be beach clean-ups, tree plantings, invasive species removal, trash roundups and special events at local natural areas and nature centers. 

All truly worthy causes and excellent ways to honor Earth Day.

The challenges our watershed is facing require something more than a “one and done” approach. 

We encourage all to participate in this annual observance of energy and joy. It’s a good thing! Then afterwards, endeavor to do something that lasts.

Here’s the good news – you don’t have to wait until Earth Day to make the world a better place for all of us. And you can do so right on your very own property. 

What you do in your front yard or backyard can have tangible, long-term benefits that positively impact water, soil, endangered species and habitat. 

It’s pretty simple. All you have to do is exchange some of your turf grass for something far better. Now is the perfect time to do it.

The United States is covered in 40 million acres of turf grass. It is a vast monoculture of a nonnative plant species that we can’t eat, wear, or harvest to feed to other living things. 

It has huge hidden costs in the form of fossil fuels, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and water. It’s not just the water that’s poured on it during the summer that’s wasted either. 

A typical lawn absorbs only 10 percent of the amount of stormwater that a natural landscape can absorb, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s because lawn grass roots are dense and shallow. It is a significant hindrance to stormwater infiltration. 

Combine that with the enormous amount of impervious surface and climate change and you can understand why there is an increase in flooding.

Let’s say you’ve removed some turf. What will you do with that area? There are so many things you can do! 

Southeastern Wisconsin is home to a goodly number of native shrubs that produce lovely flowers and are attractive in the fall. 

The best part is that our native birds and beneficial native insects – such as native pollinators – need them to survive. If you plant it, they will come.

Because native shrubs are long-lived, you’ve done something good now and for the future.

Not into shrubs? How about a Pollinator Patch? These are native flowering plants that are especially attractive to native pollinators. 

One of those pollinators is the once common Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). This bumble bee has declined by 87 percent over the previous 20 years – mostly due to habitat destruction.

You can join the effort to help bring this species back and support the other essential native pollinators by growing the plants they need for survival. 

Native pollinators don’t only pollinate native plants. They also pollinate our food crops. 

Native insects contributed over $9 billion in fruit pollination in 2009. Plant a Pollinator Patch and feed the world, so to speak.

Depending upon the conditions of the area where you removed the turf grass, you can put in native prairie plants or native woodland plants. 

You could create a native plant rain garden to catch rooftop run-off before it drains directly to the nearest receiving body of water. (It is supposed to slowly infiltrate underground instead of running off to the stormwater sewer system). 

If you can do only one thing, plant a native Oak species. Native oak trees support over 500 different species of native butterflies and moths.

The possibilities for doing something good for Earth Day and for countless days afterwards are many and they all start with one simple step. 

If you are unable to change your landscape, for whatever the reason, you can still take part in a significant way by supporting the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network and other organizations that work tirelessly on issues impacting our watershed.

Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network is hosting its first annual Garlic Mustard Pull-a-Palooza beginning Saturday (April 24th) at 10 a.m. 

Registration is required for the event, which runs through May 22.

To participate in this event or learn more about making the world a better place, contact Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network Program Director Nan Calvert at